Why give voice to bigots?

intoleranceWhy are the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald giving voice to an Islamaphobe?
The Age and SMH have published a velvet-voiced piece by Mark Durie which to those who don’t know better, looks like an accurate portrayal of violence in Islam. There are two key things, however, missing in the article.
First, an acknowledgment that much of the contemporary response of Islam to the West is bound up in a response to centuries of domination and imperialism by the West in parts of the world where Islam has been a majority religion.
And second, what Durie argues is a hardwired violence in Islamic thinking could be equally argued about the intolerance in Christian theology and practice over the centuries (and which still goes on, for example, to justify violence agains ‘communists’ in Latin America by born again dictators. In fact, Muslim fundamentalists argue precisely this.

In fact, Mark Durie’s opinion piece covers a far more insidious agenda which mirrors the intolerance of Islamists to Christianity and all that goes with it. As documented in his own work, he believes that Allah is a separate, false god. Therefore, all that goes with it is contemptible, including tolerance of Islam, and it is the mission of Christians (and probably Jews) to oppose Islam. I can find no peer-reviewed work by him in respected journals about Islam and one review of his most recent book was graciously characterized in the respected Reviews in Religion and Theology as having “extensive and uncritical quotation or paraphrasing of the work of others”. Durie is also associated with hard-right Christian lobbyists in Canberra.
Unfortunately, his theological intolerance has been even further simplified by bottom feeders in the community. As an example, he has endorsed a nasty publication against Muslims by Vickie Janson of the right-wing QSociety, a populist Islamaphobic organisation. This is the same organisation which launched a vicious campaign in St Kilda against the lawful rights of Indian Muslims to assemble lawfully for prayer in a neighbourhood house. Their activity has been condemned by Port Phillip Council and local rabbis, amongst others.
Thus Durie’s paper-thin distinction between despising Islam but not Muslims is particularly disingenuous, particularly because his work is used by people whom he knows. They are engaged in attempts to make the life of law-abiding Muslims in Australia-many of whom are refugees from Islamist violence–as uncomfortable as possible. One only has to look at the hundreds of bigoted comments which accompany Durie’s article to see where he is coming from.
The view that I have of Durie in no way is particularly theologically-sympathetic to Islam as a ultimate system of religion or way of life: I am critical of all religions with essentialist answers, but at the same time, I am not a raging secularist: I can’t object to people whose lives follow a particular path as long as they don’t oppress their brethren or others. I am also highly critical of second-rate scholarship such as that presented by Durie. I am not an Islamic specialist but have enough training in related areas (and Arabic language) to recognise stinker scholarship and the bad effect it has on people who have had little exposure to fellow Muslim citizens in all their diversity. In the same way, I have been critical of the work on Shlomo Sand on the history of Judaism casts too many aspersions on the character and culture of the diversity of Jews in the world. Thus, bigotry that stigmatizes all members of a community on the basis of gross oversimplifications cannot accepted as contributing to the informed public debate or the body of scholarship.
There is some excellent writing which puts this all into context, thus, in Islam (Key Concepts), Routledge:
“In Islamophobia Islam and Muslims are subject to special scrutiny because they are understood as a threat to Western civilization. Islamophobes usually consider violence an essential component of Islam, and fundamentalism and terrorism are equated with Islam. Many Islamophobes assert that they are not equating all Muslims with Islamic radicalism, but in practice they focus on extremist elements to the neglect of more mainstream Muslim voices. Some will acknowledge that not all Muslims are terrorists or sympathizers, but may then claim that this is because they are not truly religious Muslims. In this way, Islamophobes echo certain Muslim fundamentalists who consider only their own understanding of Islam to be correct.
Islamophobia is found in the United States among neoconservatives, some Christian evangelicals, and some pro-Israel groups. Islamophobia is also deeply influential in some segments of the United States media—Fox News is particularly noteworthy—and among right-wing lobbyists and politicians who understand Islam as a potent threat to America, Christianity, and “the West” more broadly. Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, for instance, in 2005 advocated surveillance of mosques as a means of combating terrorism.
The best analogy for Islamophobia is the Cold War “red scare.” Now, Islam has replaced communism as the enemy, but the portrayal of both as inherently insidious, threatening, and with the ultimate aim of world domination remains the same.”
The entry on Islam and Christianity in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Christianity also has an excellent discussion of the evangelical denigration of Islam. Seek it out in your local library. The article notes the ‘chilling effect’ (p. 648) this has had on the development of good relations. Durie is certainly representative of those who contribute to a chilling effect and certainly so in Australia.

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